View of “Nevin Aladağ,” 2014. Walls: March (Istanbul), 2014. Center: Beeline (Istanbul), 2014.

View of “Nevin Aladağ,” 2014. Walls: March (Istanbul), 2014. Center: Beeline (Istanbul), 2014.

Nevin Aladağ


View of “Nevin Aladağ,” 2014. Walls: March (Istanbul), 2014. Center: Beeline (Istanbul), 2014.

A notable feature of the contemporary-art scene is the way it has put more artists into worldwide circulation than ever before. Traveling from city to city, these “glocal” artists bring myriad cultural inflections to exhibitions across five continents. Nevin Aladağ is among the artists riding this wave, from biennials in Taipei and Sharjah to museums in Munich (Pinakothek der Moderne) and Tokyo (Museum of Contemporary Art). Fittingly, and successfully, most of her performances and video works involve images and sounds of people and places in which each component can be felt or seen but the overall result is a heterogeneous whole—for instance, Raise the Roof (which has been done in several versions since 2007), in which women wearing stiletto-heeled shoes listen and dance to a music only they can hear through their headphones. The titles and lengths of the songs they listen to are written on their T-shirts. Their stilettos strike roofing paper underlaid with foil, thereby generating a cacophony of sounds that are further amplified by loudspeakers. Other works that Aladağ produced using different locales and a large number of participants are City Language II, 2009, showing fragments of moving images from urban scenes as seen in the rearview mirrors of motorcycles and featuring disparate sounds of the city and people; and City Language III, 2009, a video loop showing hands clapping, each in a different rhythm.

In comparison to such previous works, Aladağ’s most recent solo exhibition in Istanbul was unusually quiet and static. “Diapason” consisted of three installations. The Music Room (all works 2014), situated in a small space that could also be viewed from the sidewalk, is an installation of new and secondhand furniture and household objects collected from stores nearby. Working with a craftsperson, Aladağ transformed them into musical instruments: A chair was strung like a guitar, a coat stand was converted into a harp, kitchen tongs looked ready to be used as drumsticks. March (Istanbul) was installed on the longer of the facing walls of the gallery’s main space. It is an enlargement of the score for the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major, the famous Rondo alla Turca. The notes are indicated by ninety-four bronze cannonballs, modeled after ones used by the Ottoman army, and placed on a musical staff drawn on two of the gallery walls; a musician could indeed read the music by looking at the notes, and might have done so while sitting on one of the pieces from the show’s third work. Deriving its name from the term used for the shortest distance between two points, Beeline (Istanbul) is composed of wooden reels, which can be used as stools, wrapped by indigo ropes the total length of which equals the shortest distance between the shores of the Bosporus. (Another version of Beeline was presented last year at Art Space Pythagorion in Samos, Greece, while a version of March is currently on view at the Kunsthalle Basel through August.)

Today, with so many cultural forces in Turkey trying to appropriate a delusional Ottoman past, it seems ironic that Aladağ chose a popular historical reference that is really a cliché at this point. That Mozart’s piece—part of a late-eighteenth-century style in arts, architecture, and social life, for which the term Turquerie was coined—appropriated the Ottoman janissary army’s band and its intrinsically militaristic elements isn’t news. In installing it in three dimensions to make a visual statement, Aladağ did not expand on this history. The accompanying brochure claimed that the exhibition evoked a feeling of being caught in crossfire, and further stated that the artist extended “an invitation to the audience to sit on [the ten stools] and reflect on the concepts of distance, proximity, travel and departure.” But do people really need an artist to tell them to sit and think—especially when the materials she offers for them to reflect upon are so obvious? An effective glocal art would have to dig deeper and develop a language beyond the stereotypes.

Mine Haydaroğlu